• Head, Neck, and Spinal Injury

    How might a head, neck or spinal injury occur?

    How a head, neck or spinal injury occurs, often called the mechanism of injury, may include:

    • Being hit or by or thrown from vehicle within a motor vehicle collision
    • Headfirst entry into shallow water
    • Fall from a height greater than person’s own height
    • Blow to the head or body during high-impact sport

    Emergency Steps


    Check the scene safety, form an initial impression, obtain consent and put on PPE, as appropriate.


    Check for signs and symptoms.

    • Significant cause of injury*
    • Change in behavior, alertness or confusion*
    • Head, neck or back pain or visible injury*
    • Weakness, tingling, numbness or unable to move body part*
    • Seizures*
    • Inability to do things they used to do (e.g., walking)*
    • Heavy bleeding*
    • Head, neck or back deformities*
    • Bruising around eyes or behind ears*
    • Blood or other fluids in nose or ears*
    • Impaired breathing, vision or balance*
    • Nausea or vomiting*
    • Damaged safety helmet*
    • Signs and symptoms of shock*

    *Note: Signs and symptoms with a * require immediate emergency medical treatment.


    Call 9-1-1 and get equipment if the person requires immediate emergency medical treatment.


    Give Care.

    General Care: Bruise

    1. Tell them NOT TO MOVE and to verbally respond to your questions.
    2. Have them remain in the position found unless you need to give CPR or cannot control bleeding.
      1. Keep infants and children in their car seats unless you need to move them to give CPR.
      2. If wearing a helmet, do not remove it unless you need to give CPR.
    3. Continue checking them as appropriate to determine if additional care is needed.
    4. Care for other injuries present based on level of training.
    5. Keep person from getting cold or overheated.
    6. Give care for shock, if necessary.
    7. Reassure person you will help and that EMS has been called (if appropriate).
    8. Watch for changes in condition, including breathing and responsiveness, and give care as appropriate and trained.

    Head, Neck, and Spinal Injury FAQs

    Is a concussion considered a head, neck or spinal injury?

    Yes. A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that alters the way the brain functions. Concussions often occur as sports-related injuries, but they can occur whenever a person experiences a bump, blow or jolt to the head or body that results in rapid movement of the brain within the head. A concussion may be tricky to recognize.

    Should I watch a person who has a head injury?

    Yes. With all head injuries, you should watch the person to see if their situation changes. If you see a change in behavior, vomiting, persistent headache, change in vision or if the person becomes unresponsive, call 9-1-1 immediately if not already done. Sometimes you may not see the symptoms immediately.

    Can I give them painkillers for their headache?

    No. Painkillers are not advised because they can mask the signs and symptoms of a serious head injury.

    Help Save Lives with an American Red Cross Class

    More than 4.6M people turn to us, the trusted training provider for First Aid, CPR, BLS and more, every year to gain lifesaving skills. Trust us to deliver unmatched lifesaving training that will provide you the confidence and skills to act when moments matter. Training Services is a division of the American Red Cross with the mission to spread knowledge and educate as many members of the national community in lifesaving procedures. Our services include training courses for CPR and AED, First Aid, BLS (Basic Life Support), Babysitting, Caregiving, Lifeguarding Water Safety, and more.

    Information Provided the Scientific Advisory Council (SAC)

    Behind every American Red Cross training program stands the Scientific Advisory Council - a team of experts dedicated to ensuring that what you learn is based on the latest and best emergency science. Visit redcross.org/take-a-class/scientific-advisory-council to see how we work, members, sub councils, scientific reviews, and recent research.

    Download the FREE Red Cross First Aid App

    The free First Aid mobile app by the American Red Cross puts expert advice for common emergencies in the palm of your hand—from the latest First Aid and CPR techniques to the nearest hospital location. Stay up to date on your lifesaving skills. iOS App, Google Play, or text "GETFIRST" to 90999.